Greatness in the White House: Rating the Presidents

By Robert K. Murray; Tim H. Blessing | Go to book overview

TWO
The Murray-Blessing Ratings

A NEW AND DIFFERENT PRESIDENTIAL survey was initiated in 1982 when we sent 1,997 questionnaires to all Ph.D.-holding American historians with the rank of assistant professor or above listed in the American Historical Association's Guide to Departments of History for 1979-1980 and 1980-1981.1 The decision to use this particular group of historians was dictated by survey costs, by the high level of these historians' training, and by the fact that they were all involved in full-time teaching (administrators and those with joint appointments in other departments were excluded). That this group was in daily contact with students and was influencing students' opinions was considered important.

Broader in scope than previous polling efforts, this survey was undertaken to meet some of the criticisms leveled at the other polls. In developing the study and forming a survey instrument, advice was secured from psychologists, public administration personnel, political scientists, and opiniongathering specialists. Modern opinion research procedures were followed, and the mainframe computer at The Pennsylvania State University was used to assess the results. Preliminary interviews with a small group of historians and a field-testing program were used to validate the pertinence of the survey questions and of the information sought. The ultimate goal was not only to determine once again the attitude of historians toward various presidential performances but also to discover, if possible, the reasons historians considered some presidents superior to others.

This attempt to "measure the immeasurable" early confronted the problem of proper yardsticks. At first adopting Professor Bailey's forty-three tests, we soon discovered that there was as much controversy among historians

-11-

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